#ActuallyAutistic: Autistic Identity Construction and Digital Socialising in Social Media Spaces
Social media includes an array of digital spaces where Autistic people who share common experiences can form communities and establish a collective voice for self-advocacy. There is a growing field of research into how Autistic people use social media, as well as into the potential benefits of social media use for Autistic people. However, there is less research into how Autistic people interpret relationships between digital and non-digital spaces, along with a need to represent more diverse experiences in Autistic social media research. This project explores how the digital geographies of Autistic people are created in social media contexts, and examines what Autistic digital communities and cultures contribute to how Autistic people understand their identities. In this project, I utilise posthuman and intersectional approaches to explain the multiplicity of power relations in social media usage by Autistic people, and further challenge notions of universality in human experience and knowledge production. This project centres Autistic voices, emphasising self-representation and lived experiences in research design and methodology. Applying qualitative research methods, I used a narrative ethnography approach that situated my experiences within a semi-structured interview process. This project’s methodology is grounded in my lived experiences as an Autistic person; I conducted 17 interviews with Autistic people to gain insights into their social media experiences, mutually creating Autistic research spaces that allowed for expression of diverse Autistic communication styles. I argue that Autistic people have distinct processes of identity formation that vary based on their lived experiences, social contexts and social media preferences. I conclude that Autistic people engage with digital or non-digital communication dynamically, and that this is shaped by changing communication and social needs. Ultimately, I argue for the necessity of neurodiversity-affirming research approaches when exploring Autistic social media practices, particularly in terms of self-representation and communication styles.